Prolific trio goes to the wall

Hockey: Bisons Matt Howatt, Michael Savage, Phil Dillon named as 2014 inductees

By: Remy Greer

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 30, 2014 06:00 am

Okotoks Bisons forward Phil Dillon stick handles during playoff action versus the High River Flyers. Dillon was one of three Bisons players voted on to the team’s Wall of Fame on Saturday evening.
Okotoks Bisons forward Phil Dillon stick handles during playoff action versus the High River Flyers. Dillon was one of three Bisons players voted on to the team’s Wall of Fame on Saturday evening.
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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Award Winners:

MVP - Phil Dillon
Playoff MVP - Matt Howatt
Most Improved Player - Zak Johns
Most Dedicated Player - Jeff Garland
Heart, Pride, Sacrifice Award - Kevan Mikkelsen
Leadership Award - Michael Savage
Most Sportsmanlike - Spencer Barlow-Lakusta
Rookie of the Year - Brayden Engel
Top Defenceman - Matt Howatt
Top Defensive Player - Mark McLeod
Perseverance (No Guts, No Glory) - Michael Savage
Scoring Champion - Phil Dillon
Plus/Minus Award - Kevan Mikkelsen
Hardest Working Bison - Darren Bordt
President's Award - Matt Howatt, Michael Savage
Volunteer of the Year - Keith Howatt
Heritage Junior Hockey League Goaltenders of the Year - Alex Bilton, Brayden Engel
Wall of Fame - Michael Savage, Matt Howatt, Phil Dillon

The franchise, the selfless captain and the all-everything defenceman. Say hello to the newest members of the Okotoks Bisons Wall of Fame.

Offensive powerhouse Phil Dillon, unquestioned leader Michael Savage and invaluable blueliner Matt Howatt took alternate routes to earning the ultimate distinction with the Junior B organization in four championship seasons with the Bisons.

“It’s a little bit surprising to be up there. I’m more than grateful and honoured,” said Savage at the team’s awards banquet on Saturday. “You look at guys and the stats they have and me playing a more defensive role I didn’t have those stats. It’s nice to know even though I didn’t have the points I was still recognized.

“It’s a good feeling to see people respect you that way.”

The 22-year-old earned the respect of everyone he played with through four fruitful seasons with the team, highlighted by his captaincy during his Junior swan song of 2013-14.

Visions of leaving such a legacy with the organization were barely hatched when the Okotokian first donned the blue-and-red in 2010.

“To have those four years was incredible. I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Savage said. “Being younger, I remember going to Bisons games and thinking that was the coolest thing going on, to look back at being in the stands cheering for them and now being recognized being on the Wall of Fame is kind of surreal.”

Dillon didn’t leave much room for doubt in four seasons of prolific offensive production from the winger nicknamed “the Franchise.”

The 21-year-old forward became just the fourth Bison to eclipse the 400-point plateau in all competitions for the club while setting the new benchmark for the organization with 220 career games with Okotoks.

“If I came back for a fourth-year I thought I could really make a caser to get up there,” said Dillon.

“Coming in as a rookie before even making the team and looking up and seeing the guys names (on the wall). I wanted to be like one of those guys. To have people look up and say oh this guy did this.

“I really wanted to be up there.”

For the team’s MVP and leading scorer with 64 points, seeing his name with the legends of the organization is a sight to behold.

“It’s a pretty cool feeling being up there with some of the guys, like Chase (Fallis) from last year and Christian Chivilo from my rookie year,” Dillon added. “It’s a tough group to crack, a lot of big names up there.”

Fellow Wall-of-Fame honouree Howatt cracked the group by consistently punching above his weight class as an undersized defenceman with a healthy dose of speed and tenacity. The 22-year-old’s responsibilities increased season-by-season until he reached the zenith as both a shutdown defenceman and primary offensive weapon from the blueline, reflected by a 38-point campaign in 2013-14.

“Coming into that room you look up and it’s one of the first things you see, those names on the wall,” said Howatt, who also earned Top Defenceman and Playoff MVP honours. “You hear stories about those guys and knowing that there is going to be stories about you and you have a place on that wall forever is a big deal.”

Going on with his fourth-year teammates who made league history as the first players to ever win four consecutive Heritage Junior Hockey League championships, as members of the first Bisons team to win the provincial gold medal in 2013 makes it all the more special.

You’re only as good as the company you keep.

“Those stories about our four-peat will be there when you look at that wall, hopefully it will be a five-peat next year,” Howatt said. “We’ve been through so much together, that was a great run we had and some of the best times of my life.”

The trio are breathing rarefied air as Wall of Fame members. The Bisons board of directors have a strict criteria for entry and are not immune to having years without any new inductees, as was the case after the 2011-12 season. This year was a different story.

“There could have been more,” said Bisons vice-president Mike Parsons. “You get Savage, a captain and a guy that plays like he’s going to a higher league. Matty Howatt what do you say? If he was six-feet tall, I’d be pissed because he would be playing in Los Angeles for the Kings.

“And Phil Dillon, he’s the fourth highest scorer in our history and we call him the Franchise. He’s incredible. When he wants to score he scores.”

While veterans were the big winners at the Bisons Awards Banquet, the youngsters didn’t exactly go home empty handed.

Freshman sensation Brayden Engel earned the Rookie of the Year award after a promising first-season in between the pipes. Engel and second-year netminder Alex Bilton shared the Heritage Junior Hockey League’s Top Goaltenders honours for posting the lowest combined goals-against-average.


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